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DVD - The Time is Now

By Roman Martel     October 01, 1998

Well, if you?re reading this, you must either have a DVD player or at least are thinking of getting one. You also may know by now the many benefits of the format, in comparison to VHS and LD. Let?s recap some of those for a moment. You get digital sound and picture, something neither VHS nor LD can boast. You (usually) get the choice of Widescreen or Pan and Scan. You get extras and goodies. You get all of these on one small disc the size of a CD. Oh yes and let me mention you get all this at a great price, especially compared to LD.

Now I?ll be honest here, it was the pricing that got me on the DVD. I have a laser player and to tell you the truth I didn?t see much of a difference in the picture or sound from the DVD. But the price was just what the doctor ordered. For example, I recently purchased The Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa?s classic film. It?s suggested retail is around $39.99, wow pretty steep for a DVD. But compare it to the LD version of the film. If I went with the basic CLV (I wouldn?t be able to freeze frames) the disc would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $59.99 or more. If I went for the CAV version (I could freeze frames and get the spiffy commentary) I would have to pay about twenty dollars more. With the DVD I get the film in Widescreen, and the commentary, I can also freeze the frames if I really want to. Tell me that isn?t a wise buy.

Now that was a high end DVD, not your run of the mill release. Most of those can run you from $14.99 to $29.99 (and lower with some competitive pricing for some older titles). Compared to LD this is pure heaven, and compared to VHS this is also a good thing. If you wanted to purchase the newly released Mercury Rising on VHS you could expect to pay suggested retail of $100.00, give or take about ten dollars. You want to buy it on DVD; well you?re looking at anywhere from $19.99 to $29.99. If you must have it, get it on DVD.

Now all this has been said before, but the big question here is how long is this going to all last. You can?t expect this to go on forever, I?m afraid. There are a couple things you must keep in mind when dealing with the movie industry. We are dealing with a business, not entertainment. The whole objective is to make money. The reason the prices are so cheap for DVD is because the movie industry doesn?t see DVDs as a moneymaker. They make them cheaply and sell them cheaply because as of right now video retailers don?t have to carry them.

This is where Divx will help DVD. Yes, believe it or not the cursed format will aid us DVD buyers. As long as Divx exists DVD players and discs will be on the low end of pricing and will even go lower than they are now. Sounds great to me. Now expect a sight price hike when Divx is reduced to rubble (let?s keep our fingers crossed on that one).

Now what happens when the studios begin to see that video retailers need to carry DVD? This will happen when DVD has saturated the market pretty decently. Well, unfortunately you?ll see the prices slowly but steadily creep up.

Is the man daft? Has he gone nuts? I wish. Let?s look at the evidence a moment.

Remember how I said that Mercury Rising would cost you around $100.00. I wasn?t exaggerating or pushing the numbers. That?s suggested retail, go ahead and call your local video store. How did that happen? It?s quite simple. Around 1989 when Batman had raked in the cash some exec at Warner Brothers thought to himself about all the people who would want to buy the film on video and how much money they would make. Then it clicked; video is a moneymaker. Especially when you think of how many video stores would have to buy every big name title the studios made (remember this was before Blockbuster and Hollywood killed all the mom and pop stores in the country). So on titles that maybe cost a quite a bundle to make, and maybe didn?t quite make the money back in theatrical release, well we could just raise the price. So in ?89 Hunt for Red October became the first Rental priced film. In other words it got the honor of being priced at $100.00. Up till this time video retailers had seen a steady hike in prices and weren?t too surprised to see this development (that doesn?t mean we were happy, just not too surprised).

That?s not an isolated case either. I remember when LD used to cost around $14.99 to $19.99. Ah now those were the days. I don?t think I?ve seen a $14.99 suggested retail disc in years.

What I?m saying here (rather long-windedly) is that we should all enjoy this while it lasts. When some exec somewhere realizes that the DVD community is larger than he suspected then we can expect to see steady price hikes till we?re all paying $49.99 per disc for new releases. It?s like a horrid nightmare.

Now keep in mind that some things may affect this whole theory. Digital Cable, Satellite, Pay per View, Divx and HDTV may help or hinder the pricing of DVD. But now it?s just too early to see where it?s all going to end up. You can count on this. It?s just a matter of time before we see the dreaded price hike.

So what am I saying? Seize the day! Buy now! Indulge while you can.

Now what does this all mean to the anime fan? Well at least we can rest easy for a while. Anime has always been a niche market (although this may change, especially now that Disney may release anime theatrically here. Remember this is a business not entertainment, and Disney embodies this more than any other studio I?ve encountered). What this means is that the anime distributors know that retail places don?t have to carry their product, so they price it lower (comparatively), so we?ll buy it. How nice of them.

This trend will and has carried over to Anime on DVD. It?s still a niche market and will be for some time, so they can release every episode of Record or Lodoss War for a lower price than the box VHS set and feel comfortable about it. At least our Anime is safe from the dreaded price hike for now.

Can this all be stopped? Well, if you want to be optimistic it will be. Everything has cycles, even Hollywood. I think that maybe are on one end of the pendulum and that its going to swing back the other way. Hollywood is going to be about making movies again, not making money. Then maybe they will understand that if they priced thing low to begin more people would watch and buy their films. But until we stop seeing ?event movies? that lack substance, plot, character development, and taste, and have only two goals in mind ? to make money and sell merchandise, that is a time that is far in the future. But I?ll keep the faith. Hollywood used to put all those element in most of their films and maybe, just maybe they will again.


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